Top Honor Goes to Roseland Resident Known as West Essex YMCA Ambassador

By: News and blog | Friday, May 3, 2019 | Volunteering

Ilene Katz received the 2018 Judge Harry L. Lindeman Award for Healthy Living

Ilene Katz wasn’t into exercise when she joined the West Essex YMCA, but the place has become her second home.

Katz was undergoing treatment for cancer when she joined the YMCA in 2015. She was one of the first participants in LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a 12-week wellness program for cancer survivors. Afterward, she took group exercise classes, volunteered, and emerged as the YMCA’s unofficial ambassador, West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores said.

“I was in a slump, mentally and physically, but the Y changed everything for me,” Katz said. “I had a purpose, a focus, and I made friends. A whole other side of me came out!”

The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, which counts the West Essex YMCA among its seven branches, honored Katz with the 2018 Judge Harry L. Lindeman Award for Healthy Living at the association’s awards dinner on April 11. “We are so pleased that Ilene is part of our West Essex Y family,” Flores said. “She is what helps to make our YMCA so special for the many folks who need us the most.” 

The Roseland resident was diagnosed with the first of three cancers more than eight years ago. “My illness took over my life,” Katz said. She gave up her apartment and left her job as a veterinarian technician. The veterinarian she had worked for introduced her to the YMCA. 

“Coming to the Y turned out to be the best thing I could have done,” said Katz, who eagerly shares her enthusiasm for the nonprofit. Many of her YMCA guests have become members. When the Y hosts events, Katz volunteers to help with setup and cleanup, Flores said. She joined the intergenerational social club, and often can be seen chatting with friends in the lobby.

The 58-year-old became a volunteer for the YMCA’s Healthy Aging at Home program, which provides in-home exercise regimens to homebound seniors. “There she was every week going with our instructor to visit Myrna, making conversation and encouraging her to push through her exercise,” Flores said.

Like LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, Healthy Aging at Home is funded in large part through donations, including YMCA Program Champions.

“Ilene consistently has a smile on her face, brings joys to all those she meets, and always has a kind word to say about everyone,” Flores said.



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